Quannum originated five years ago after the dissolution of its mother-label, Solesides; the crew includes DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, Latyrx, our own Lifesavas, D-Sharp, and Joyo Valarde. As a collective, they're some of the best in West Coast hiphop, an intriguing mix of eyes-on-the-prize inventiveness and steely allegiance to the foundations of hiphop culture. Alternately, Cold Crush Brothers represent the core of hiphop, period--the Bronx crew formed in the late '70s in the Bronx as rapping, Djing, b-boying and graffiti were all self-identifying with one another; as such, they're some of the founding fathers of hiphop. The promise of their very presence is humbling. Grandmaster Caz, JDL, Easy AD, Almighty Kaygee, J Charlie Chase, DJ Tony Tone, (Money Ray passed away in 2002 from cancer) plus "inventor of the scratch," stellar DJ Grand Wizard Theodore: these fellows have been representing hiphop for longer than anyone--indeed, they are hiphop as much as they helped invent it--and even 30 years after their inception, put on one of the best performances you will ever hope to see.
When I tell Gift of Gab, Blackalicious' lyrically spry emcee, the Quannum show is the same night as the Cold Crush, I can practically hear his mouth drop over the phone. "Whoa...what time are they playing?"
He wonders if Quannum can end their own performance in time to catch some of the Cold Crush, and continues, "Man, I hope we get to see them! They were one of the most phenomenal pioneer groups; Grandmaster Caz was the first raw emcee--before LL, before Ice Cube, before Rakim--he was the first cat to be the man on the mic. You just don't wanna step to him. I heard an old tape of the Cold Crush battle and Fantastic Five a while ago; this is the foundation. They're definitely pioneers. It's a trip, for them to still be doing it; it's so inspiring and incredible. Back in the day, there was this myth that once you reached 30, you couldn't be an MC anymore, but now, most of the dopest emcees are over 30. It shows that hiphop is evolving and it's a true art form; it took awhile for people to see this, but it defies the limits of age. I truly believe you can be 60 and have the illest mic skills."
Considering Grandmaster Caz has been, for all practical purposes, continually rhyming longer than anyone alive, it's safe to say he's got the skills down pat. And a brief overview of story of Grandmaster Caz can be introduced by another emcee over 30: Jay-Z, who, in "H.O.V.A.," claimed, "I'm overcharging niggas for what they did to the Cold Crush." What they did, in fact, was steal "Rapper's Delight," the epic 1979 track that first exposed a whole nation to what kind of stuff had been going down in the Bronx for years, and sold 2 million copies in the process. Though written by Caz--aka the Grandmaster Casanova Fly, as the Sugar Hill Gang was forced to spell out mid-song--the SHG shamelessly and famously bit his rhymes and never gave him credit (or royalties).
But the Cold Crush's solid place in history has never been a question. Run-DMC, for instance, has said their entire existence was an attempt to best the Cold Crush--that they knew if they could even be as close to as dope as Cold Crush, they were doing fine. Alternately, the Cold Crush have described themselves as the Rolling Stones of hiphop--not entirely inaccurate, especially now that hiphop has become the national idea of pop music.
their part, Quannum comes from the same grassroots origins that first jumped off hiphop in the Bronx. What started as Solesides in 1993 to fill the void of hiphop on their college campus (nearly all the Quannum crew met while attending the University of California-Davis) evolved five years ago into a flagship label for the West Coast, simply based on the quality and strength of its releases. Blackalicious' Nia, Latyrx' The Album, Lyrics Born's Later That Day--and, of course, last year's phenomenal Spirit in Stone from Portland's Lifesavas--you can't step to a catalog of classics like that. (Or Gift of Gab's forthcoming debut solo release, Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, out May 11).
One thing that's so appealing about Quannum is that they're always real; while their lyricism is fresh and beats creative, and the whole group, across the board, are vigorous, captivating performers--they don't come with bullshit. You get the feeling they're cool with just being normal, albeit extremely talented, heads. This has always been a drawing point for Portland's down-to-earth crowds, and while it's high flattery that Quannum's jumping off such a strong tour in Portland, it's also telling; every Quannum-related show I've ever been to in our town is completely nuts. Gab confirms humbly, "Portland has always shown myself and my crew crazy love." And for those attending the Quannum show, he advises to "expect surprises." By "surprises," Gab hopefully means the Quannum tour will mirror the Lyrics Born show last week--wherein the entirety of Lifesavas, honey-voiced powerhouse Joyo Velarde, D-Sharp, and Chicago's Diverse--not of Quannum cloth, but opening for LB--joined Lyrics Born on stage for a blow-out, mini-epic freestyle.
Whatever show you're attending, you'll get the pure hiphop-love free-for-all. As Caz told me in a 2002 interview, "[What I love about hiphop is] the same thing I loved when I was 13 when I started doing it: part of it is mine. I invented a part of it; it belongs to me. It's not something you venture into and say, 'I used to do that'; not for me, not when you start something. I've dedicated my life to the entire culture of hiphop. I've pretty much sacrificed anything else that I would have or could have done aside from it. I chose this at an early age and that's it. I'm 42 years old, and I'm still b-boying, you know what I mean? That's not gonna change."
Gift of Gab mirrors this holistic outlook. "I think you always try to evolve and grow, and you move in a certain place, you do your next piece of work; you ask, 'Where can I go now that I haven't gone?' A big part of it is letting go, letting the energy take over. All you're doing is channeling something, being used as a vessel. So letting go and getting out of the way, right now, that's really important."
Put another way:
On the chorus of "Fresh, Wild, Fly and Bold," the Cold Crush rhymed, "Fresh, wild, fly and bold/ And we'll be that way till we grow old/ For the rest of our lives, as long as we live/ We'll keep usin' those adjectives."
On "Just Because" off his solo record, Gift of Gab comes with what could be considered a response, and an affirmation: it's "Not even because this is how I'm earning my paychecks/ but just because the shit feels good."